The fifth wall

The fifth wall

What’s the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning? Ok, maybe it’s your pillow. But for us back sleepers, it is most likely the ceiling. So why have so many of us neglected our fifth wall by leaving it white and bare? 

Your ceiling is about to become your serene escape, your visual retreat, your colorful companion.

Thinking of your ceiling as the fifth wall may help you complete a room that you are almost totally happy with, or it may give that edge to a room that needs a little lift and excitement.  Or, if you are feeling especially bold, it can be a place to experiment with a color you have wanted to try.  This is exactly what happened to me.

Three years ago I took a whirlwind vacation with my husband and a group of great friends.  The ten of us started our journey in Barcelona and took in the sight, sounds, smells and colors of the boquerias, outdoor cafes, and everything the city had to offer.

Then, we all headed to Ibiza where we rented a fabulous villa in the hills overlooking the Mediterranean!  Hello!  This was the most amazing place I had ever vacationed.  Gazing out over our infinity pool, surrounded by lemon trees, sipping sangria, and gazing out at the sea, our troubles and stresses melted away and we melted into laughter.

It was not easy to leave this paradise and I was determined to preserve a piece of it in the new apartment my husband and I had just purchased in Northern Manhattan.  We were grown-ups, we owned real estate, and I was ready to make another bold decision.  Inspired by the deep, mesmerizing blues of the Mediterranean, and all throughout our Spanish journey.  I painted our bedroom ceiling the most beautiful, velvety, luscious blue.  My contractor thought I was crazy, my husband thought I was brilliant.

The result has been one of the best design decisions of my life.  Every night and every morning we gaze up at our very own Mediterranean sea and sky.  Our three-pendant glass light fixture is like the twinkling of stars.  Our baby wakes up and coos up at the blue and I’m convinced it has bought us at least an extra half-hour of sleep every morning.

There is something fantastically shocking about guests discovering such a bold statement on the ceiling.  The bedroom is always the last room on our new-visitor house tour, and everyone has the same reaction: first surprise, and then they exclaim, “I LOVE IT!”

Go Forth Boldly

If your room is red or purple or green I would not necessarily recommend painting your ceiling a bold and deep blue.  However, if you do have a strong color scheme, like a purple bedroom, a white ceiling can be distracting (this is true in any room, not just in a bedroom.)  A darker ceiling color can unify the space.  One option is simply to paint the ceiling the same color as the walls, or if that is too much you can ask the paint store to mix the same color at 60 or 50% saturation (this means that the hue, or base color, will be the same, but it will be lighter or toned down, and less intense.)  Or, you could go with a soft contrasting color.  On the color wheel the complement to purple is yellow.  A nice middle-ground would be a soft gold, or pale mustard.  I would also recommend sticking to a matte paint finish.  Starting with eggshell and moving up on the glossy finish spectrum is difficult territory because it will show more of the imperfections in your walls.

There are many good rules in the world of color that can aid you in this decision.  Complementary colors, such as purple and yellow, are a good pair but it is always important to pick the right depth or saturation of hue (color), so you may need to tone down one of the colors (as I explained in using a pale gold rather than a screaming yellow).  Also, colors that are adjacent on the color wheel can strike a good balance, like blue and green (i.e. deep or medium blue walls, pale green ceiling, or the reverse). When in doubt, you can always complement any color with a neutral hue, such as gray, or beige, or even a rich ivory.

If you are starting from scratch, like I did, you can scheme your space based around a bold ceiling.   My goal and vision was to capture the essence of the sea and tranquility.  Once I knew that the ceiling would be deep blue (Decathlon Blue by Ralph Lauren)

I built the rest of our bedroom around this.  The walls were painted Design Studio White by Benjamin Moore.  To balance out the crispness of this contrast I used various neutral and natural tones, such as a braided rug, soft white and ivory linens, and other warm wood tones in the furniture, and a few hints of green and pale orange in the my accents and accessories.

No matter how bold you decide to go, the most important thing is to take a chance, but pick a color that you truly love.  You may find yourself truly happy to wake up to it every day.